Student art exhibitions

In J. Rustem and J. Saunders’ project to reorganise Vilnius University’s art departments in 1811, annual exhibitions were viewed as an instrument to “encourage the skills of students and popularise art”. However, in 1812 the war postponed this initiative for nearly ten years. The first student art exhibition opened in 1820. It received attention from two newspaper reviewers as an exclusive cultural event. One of them listed the art works, showing the exhibition’s scale and content. The exhibition contained 136 works, comprising oil paintings, engravings, drawings, watercolours and sketches. It was dominated by copies of pictures by J. Rustem and other artists from the study programme and copies of miniatures, sketches of plaster busts, figures drawn from nature, sketches and drawings on the theme of competition. Ten works were finished original art pieces created by students (landscapes, portraits and miniature portraits).

The 1820 exhibition raised J. Rustem’s standing in society. The rector of the university wrote in his letter to the Minister for Public Education: “Offering personal input and being diligent, helping many university students to develop their skills in the art sphere and especially teaching them to draw from nature, professor Rustem raised the teaching of painting at the university to a level which it had never reached before and the evidence is the art exhibition organised last year.”

Later student exhibitions had to be organised every two years. They offered the chance to teach young people to show their work and show the first steps towards independent participation in exhibitions and free art market. However, there is a lack of detailed information about later university exhibitions. Vilnius society had different events and soon lost interest in them. Their importance became evident later, when the university closed and exhibitions to review group work had not been arranged for a long time.